In the second Presidential debate,
Mitt Romney both insulted and patronized women.
His archaic, clueless worldview remains so rooted in the 1950's
that he didn't even understand how offensive his statements were.

Since 1980, the proportion of women who vote has topped the proportion of men who do. And it was higher than ever in 2008, with 65.7 percent of eligible women voting, compared with 61.5 percent of men.


So in the second presidential debate, when women's issues finally came up, Mitt Romney had an opportunity to show female voters he cared. Or alternatively, to demonstrate to women that he actually didn't care. Turns out it's the latter.

From his bullying of moderator Candy Crowley to his dismissive description of his hiring practices, Romney made it very clear where he stood. "Binders full of women," his badly chosen phrase became the meme of the night and will likely haunt him past Halloween. Here's a deconstruction of what he had to say about women.

An important topic, and one which I learned a great deal about, particularly as I was serving as governor of my state, because I had the chance to pull together a cabinet and all the applicants seemed to be men.

Seemed to be? Implausible from the start, they either were or they weren't.

And I – and I went to my staff, and I said, "How come all the people for these jobs are – are all men." They said: "Well, these are the people that have the qualifications."

This is hard to believe. Romney was talking about 2003 – not 1893. Plenty of women would have been properly qualified.

And I said: "Well, gosh, can't we – can't we find some – some women that are also qualified?"


And – and so we – we took a concerted effort to go out and find women who had backgrounds that could be qualified to become members of our cabinet. I went to a number of women's groups and said: "Can you help us find folks," and they brought us whole binders full of women.

ZING! There was the shot through his foot. "Binders full of women" became #bindersfullofwomen on Twitter, a Tumblr page and a Facebook page which within half an hour had over 20,000 likes. By the end of the debate that had risen to almost 70,000. Why did the phrase resonate? Because it was tone deaf, condescending and out of touch with the actual economic issues that women are so bothered about. The phrase objectified and dehumanized women. It played right into the perception that so many women have feared about a Romney administration – that a president Romney would be sexist and set women back. And it turns out the way Romney presented it – that he asked for a study of women in leadership positions – wasn't true anyway*.

*The story Romney told was FALSE. He did NOT seek out qualified women as he claimed, and the number of women working under Romney in senior-level positions actually decreased by almost 10% during his term. Here’s what actually happened: A group of Massachusetts women’s advocates called MassGAP collaborated on identifying women qualified to assume senior government positions before Romney even took office, according to David Bernstein and others familiar with the binders Romney is describing. The women’s group took the initiative to deliver the data to Romney; he did not request it as he indicated in the debate. Bernstein writes: “[MassGAP] did the research and put together the binder full of women qualified for all the different cabinet positions, agency heads, and authorities and commissions. They presented this binder to Governor Romney when he was elected. This has been written about before, in various contexts; and the facts have been verified with several people directly involved in the MassGAP effort who confirm that this history as presented it is correct – and that Romney’s claim during the debate, that he asked for such a study, is false.”

I recognized that if you're going to have women in the workforce that sometimes you need to be more flexible. My chief of staff, for instance, had two kids that were still in school. She said: 'I can't be here until 7 or 8 o'clock at night. I need to be able to get home at 5 o'clock so I can be there for making dinner for my kids and being with them when they get home from school.' So we said fine. Let's have a flexible schedule so you can have hours that work for you.

Fair enough, flexibility is important. But the picture of a woman having to be home to make dinner for her kids in the 21st Century is a dated one. Was Romney's chief of staff a single parent? Could there have been a partner to share in the dinner-making? His description doesn't sound like it.

We're going to have to have employers in the new economy, in the economy I'm going to bring to play, that are going to be so anxious to get good workers they're going to be anxious to hire women.

The inference here is that women only get hired when a numerical need arises. Romney's answer implied women don't get considered on the merits but as a second option.

I mentioned 3.5 million women, more now in poverty than four years ago.

Not allowing women in poverty access to family planning contributes to that number. Romney seemed unaware of the connection between his opposition to an organization like Planned Parenthood and the economic status of many of the women who use it.

What we can do to help young women and women of all ages is to have a strong economy, so strong that employers that are looking to find good employees and bringing them into their workforce and adapting to a flexible work schedule that gives women opportunities that they would otherwise not be able to afford.

Again, flexibility is only part of what a woman needs. Romney's answer was confined only to the kind of professional woman qualified to be his chief of staff. There are millions of other working women who still don't get paid at the same rate as men – despite Obama's Lilly Ledbetter act. Romney never addressed equal pay despite a direct question from the audience about it.

I don't believe that bureaucrats in Washington should tell someone whether they can use contraceptives or not. And I don't believe employers should tell someone whether they could have contraceptive care of not. Every woman in America should have access to contraceptives.

Presumably so should men. But who should pay for it? Romney's past position has been to allow employers insurance companies to deny coverage for contraceptives on religious or moral grounds.


Judging by the following comments, a fraction of those which appeared instantaneously after Mr. Romney's comments, who would you guess might be more motivated to vote for President Obama?

Barack Obama said, “Women are not some monolithic bloc.
Women are not an interest group. . . .
Women are over half this country and its workforce.”

From her seat in the audience,
Ann frantically signals to Mitt,
"Shut the hell up you idiot".


FAIR USE NOTICE: This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of criminal justice, political, human rights, economic, democracy, scientific, and social justice issues, etc. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information go to: If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.